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A Candid Talk About Our Hair, Identity, and Respect

June 6, 2011

Years ago while doing a Diversity training, one of the participants remarked, “If you’d worn that yesterday, I wouldn’t have heard a word you said.” This comment was in response to a simple African hat I was wearing.  I know if I’d actually worn my hair naturally I would have had a greater challenge doing my Diversity work.  I love my hair because black hair is the most versatile hair in the world.  You can braid it, twist it, blow it out, straighten it, curl it, and even dread it.  But we haven’t always had the best products available if we want to keep it natural.   And so, we’ve been dreading how to handle our hair long before Chris Rock’s movie about “Good Hair.”

What does hair mean in this society?  What is considered “good hair” and beautiful, long or short, blond or dark, or straight or curly.  Culturally and historically, what messages have been subconsciously ingrained in us that drive our current views and choices?  Personally I feel badly knowing what I know now about the dangerous chemicals that were in the relaxers that I put onto my daughters’ heads when they were younger. I’ve since learned that the products marketed for young black girls was some of the worst on the market, even if they touted words like “organic.”  To my defense,  I did so under duress and pressure as my husband heard their painful cries as I tried to comb through their thick hair.  They’d be screaming at the top of their lungs, “You’re hurting me,” with tears streaming down their little faces.  It wasn’t a pretty site and it was a horrible experience for them.  Sure it looked good after I finished, but the pain wasn’t worth the gain.  I gave in and I have to admit, it made life easier.  I straightened their hair so that I would not cause them that much pain and to make life easier for me. I am so happy that there are now so many products out there to help us manage our hair. Now, they are used to long straight hair because that’s what they’ve grown up with and who wants to fight their hair every day?

  1. Do you wear your hair natural?
  2. Do you love your natural hair?  Why or Why Not?
  3. Are you treated differently or feel differently if you wear your hair natural?
  4. Who do you get the most positive feedback from?
  5. What about the worse feedback, who does it come from?
  6. How do you feel about natural hair?
  7. What about dreads, how do you feel about them on yourself or others?
  8. What about black people dye their hair blond?
  9. What about other cultures getting dreads?
  10. Tell me what you think about hair?

This concludes our series on hair.  I think it’s great that our hair is so versatile that we can choose a style that fits our desired image.  I can twist mine one day, wear an Afro the next, and have it straight on the third day if I want.  The important thing is to choose what makes you feel the best and not to please others or to “fit in” as many in my generation tried to do.

I’m Barbara Talley, the poet who speaks and inspires.  To find out more about me check out: What Does Barbara Do? or visit  my website.

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